There has been reason for NFL analysts and fans far and wide to complain about the Chicago Bears roster since offseason workouts began.
The offensive line did not make a marked improvement and the Bears decided to add low-priced veterans to the receiving corps. Sure, the new front office took care of salary cap issues — but not in a way to provide much reassurance to fans. Changes were needed and one of those was to send Khalil Mack away for an extra 2022 second-round draft pick. However, that return wasn’t used on players to help Justin Fields.
Franchises that selected QBs atop the draft generally do more to support their young signal-caller. Instead, the Bears are starting a rookie left tackle who was a fifth-round selection, and the veteran wide receivers that they added have never sniffed 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
The worst team in the league was a title the Bears appeared worthy of both in the preseason and after four 2022 regular-season losses. However, through seven games they are 3-4 with an outside chance at the playoffs in an NFC that has only two consensus good teams — the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. After last night’s 33-14 win on the road against the New England Patriots — the Bears’ first win against Bill Belichick since 2000 — maybe Ryan Poles’ front office does have the team on the right track.
Spending both of their 2022 second-round picks on defensive backs was not a popular move, but during the plays that weren’t one of Robert Quinn’s franchise record 18.5 sacks in 2021, the pass defense struggled. The reinforcements in the secondary have made that position group one of the strengths of the team. Even though standout corner Jaylon Johnson has missed four games the Bears’ defense has not yet surrendered 30 points or 200 passing yards in a single contest in 2022.
Still, none of that addressed the issues on Chicago’s struggling offense. The line needed to be better in pass protection and the pass catchers needed to make Fields’ life easier by putting themselves in a position to make big plays.
There was very little that the Bears could do to overhaul their offense this past offseason with limited salary cap space. Chicago owed more than $56 million in dead money. One addition that it tried to make was adding Buffalo Bills’ restricted free agent interior offensive lineman Ryan Bates, but the Bears’ offer was matched. They brought in Lucas Patrick from the Green Bay Packers to help their offensive line, but injuries have plagued him throughout the year. He finally started at center against the Patriots and was carted off of the field in the first half. For wide receiver depth, they added Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, N’Keal Harry — who played in his first game of the season on Monday night — and Byron Pringle, who is currently on injured reserve.
This is nowhere near the offensive talent that Jalen Hurts is working with in Philadelphia, but the Bears do have a better rushing attack than the undefeated Eagles. They’re ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per carry and are the leaders in total rushing yards. And while Fields isn’t in the most envious of situations in terms of pass blockers and catchers, at least the team is clearly his this season. There is no Andy Dalton hogging preseason practice snaps or Matt Nagy refusing to alter his offense to help Fields. While not everything has worked, he is at the front of the coaching staff’s mind at all times. Against the Patriots, Chicago ran the most Fields-friendly offense that they have this season, and, for once he played four strong quarters of football. The result was a big road win on primetime.
Now, not only are the Bears still in the playoff hunt, but they will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million in cap space this offseason — the most in the NFL. For all of the growing pains that Fields is going through this season, he can go through them during one in which there wasn’t much expected from Chicago. Then, next year, with all of that cap space and a pick in the first round of the draft, Fields might be able to hit the easy button.
For most of this season, the Bears have been painful to watch. While fans have needed to put cold steaks over their eyes after many games, 2022 is far from over and 2023 is so bright it might require sunglasses.
The Bears weren’t in a position to be like the Eagles and Bills who have built juggernauts around their young quarterbacks. Instead, the Bears decided to take a step back. That step may end up costing them very little this season, and result in a massive profit come this time next year.